11 Common Toyota Prius Prime Problems (Explained)

The Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid features a larger battery pack that gives it more electric-only range than the regular Prius hybrid.

Since it can be charged at home, it’s great for shorter commutes and errands, while the gas engine acts as a backup for longer trips.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the Prius Prime’s common problems and their solutions. 

1. Plug-in Charging System Malfunction

Several 2023 Prius Prime owners have reported encountering a warning message on their dash indicating that the “Plug-in Charging System has Malfunctioned.”

Once the message appears, it constantly flashes on the screen and may take one or two days to disappear. Nevertheless, the car typically drives and charges without any issues.

The error usually only comes up if the car has been charged in a hot environment or during the middle of the day.

Here’s how owners described their experience on PriusChat.com:

“New owner of Prius Prime XSE for about 4 weeks. Yesterday I got the message ‘Your plug-in system has malfunctioned,’ ‘See dealer’ and the engine light came on. Everything seems to work just fine as far as I can tell. Took it in this morning and Toyota says they have not seen this before and their scans do not identify the problem.” 

“Same issue here, 2023 prime 581 miles. Only ever used the factory charge cable. Fault code: P1CEA.”

“I encountered this error last night. 2023 Prius Prime XSE w/ ~1300 miles and been fully charged ~20 or so times since I bought it almost a month ago.”

“Day 4 of ownership and had this issue. Plugged in 5 times total. Last time I plugged in it was in a hot garage… 2023 Prius Prime XSE.”

Another owner on the r/PriusPrime subreddit had this to say:

“Just got back from dealership for check engine light (second time) for the Plug-in Charging System Malfunction error for the 2023. I was told that Toyota is aware of the issue and working on a fix. It has something to do with one of the sensors for the battery cooling system.”

According to a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) that Toyota released several months after the second generation Prius Prime debuted, the error is caused by a fault with the battery charging system’s cooling fan sensors.

This issue should only affect early builds of the 2023 model, but it can still affect many vehicles since Toyota only updated the part after the latter half of 2023.

To fix the problem on affected vehicles, dealers will have to replace the entire battery charging assembly which typically costs around $1,500. This repair is covered by the 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Dealers will also only replace the charger assembly if they actually see the warning message.

Aside from simply waiting for the message to disappear on its own, you can also make it go away by clearing out trouble codes using an OBDII scanner. 

2. Dead 12-Volt Battery

The Prius Prime’s 12-volt battery has a tendency to become weak and leave owners unable to start their car.

Despite having a large high voltage hybrid battery, the Prius still relies on the 12-volt battery to power up different computers and modules. When the 12-volt battery gets too weak, you won’t be able to wake up the car at all.

Newer models of the Prius come with a smaller 12-volt battery to further save on weight, but it can also easily get discharged if it’s not properly taken care of.

The Prius Prime, as well as the regular Prius, also has lots of electronics and computers that can drain the 12-volt battery even while it’s just parked and not being used.

If the 12-volt battery’s state of charge gets too low, you’ll usually see a warning on the dash. However, there have been a lot of cases where the battery just suddenly stops providing enough power to the car’s electronics after the car has been parked for a short while.

Here’s how a few owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“2018 Prius Prime bought brand new in September. Went to start it a little while ago, and it would not start, got the message “12 Volt battery low”. Very unexpected.”

“I have a ‘23 XSE Prime with barely 2,000 miles on it. Just took it on a road trip this past Friday (about 300 miles round trip)…Woke up the next morning to go to work and found it completely dead. Fob wasn’t responding, car didn’t turn on, couldn’t even get the charging cord disconnected because I couldn’t unlock it. I ended up having the car towed to my local dealer.”

“I just had a problem with the 12V battery too. I live in San Diego (not very cold). I plugged in Sunday evening and left plugged in until Tuesday evening and went to take the car on an errand and found it dead.”

If the 12-volt battery becomes weak, you can jump start it like a regular vehicle using regular jumper cables or a booster pack. 

Although the 12-volt battery is in the back of the car, there should be a negative and positive battery terminal under the hood and fuse box that you can hook up jumper cables to. 

If the 12-volt battery is faulty or just too old to hold a charge, you’ll have to replace it with a similar sized one.

The Prius Prime only gets charged by the high voltage traction battery once it’s in Ready mode and while you’re driving.

Even if you leave the charger plugged in, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the 12-volt battery is also getting charged because the system prioritizes charging the high voltage battery first.

In fact, leaving the car plugged in for several days keeps a lot of the car’s electronics constantly running and can actually drain the 12-volt battery a bit.

You can also drain the 12-volt battery if you leave the car in ACC (Accessory) mode for long periods of time.

Other factors that can unexpectedly drain the 12-volt battery include:

  • Extremely cold weather 
  • Parasitic drain from aftermarket accessories
  • Only driving for short distances
  • Long term storage
  • Leaving lights and accessories on while parked

If you want to make sure your 12-volt battery is always properly charged, you can hook it up to a battery tender/maintainer so you don’t have to always rely on the Prius’ charging system. 

3. Blown Head Gasket 

Before the Prime nameplate was introduced, its predecessor, the Prius Plug-in, was sold from 2012 to 2015.

This generation had lots of reports of head gasket failures at higher mileages.

These failures typically occurred after the car reached 150,000 to 200,000 miles in both the plug-in and regular hybrid versions of the third generation Prius.

Common symptoms of a head gasket failure in the 3rd gen Prius include:

  • Misfires
  • Rattling and shaking at startup
  • Check engine light
  • Coolant loss

Here’s how owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“I have a 2014 Prius Plug-In with a Blown Head Gasket. It has 165K Miles on it now.”

“My 2012 PIP currently has 230k+ miles, and it needed a new head gasket around 220k miles… The cost to replace the head gasket and other miscellaneous items at dealership was $3k.”

“My 2012 Prius plug in needed a new head gasket at 248k miles. That was its’ first ever CEL… it had the shakes at start up and started developing “roughness” like a minor misfire at 236k miles.”

Overheating is the most common cause of premature head gasket failures. 

This is exacerbated in the third gen Prius when the EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) system gets clogged and causes more heat to build up.

Lots of third gen Prius owners recommend cleaning the EGR cooler and intake manifold every 50,000 to 100,000 miles to minimize the chances of head gasket failures. 

Most Toyota dealers won’t bother with the laborious process of cleaning the EGR cooler and just simply replace it. A new EGR cooler costs around $350.

Many also blame the head gasket failures on the faulty piston ring design of the third gen Prius which caused lots of oil consumption issues in the early model years, which was eventually fixed by the 2015 model year. 

Reports of excessive oil consumption also seemed to taper off after the 2013 model year.

The cost to replace the head gasket starts at around $3,000 because the cylinder head has to be taken off. The repair can cost several thousands more if parts need to be sent to the machine shop or replaced.

In some cases, it might be more cost effective to just swap in a used engine instead of rebuilding the old one.

4. Clicking Front Axle

Many third and fourth generation Prius owners have complained about a rapid clicking or ticking noise when coming to a stop using the regenerative braking mode.

The noise starts as a rapid clicking at around 30 to 20 mph, then gradually slows down as the car comes to a stop.

The clicking can come from either the front left or right side of the car. It can also be very faint, so you’ll have to roll down your windows to actually hear it.  

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on PriusChat.com:

“Once in a while, when I slow down to a stop from about 15-0 mph, it would make a clicking sound until the car stops. This would happen more when the ICE is warmed up, and only when the car is using the regen braking.” — 2016 Prius

“I started noticing this around 6k and seems to be more pronounced now around 12k and doesn’t matter if I am turning or whatever. Just to describe this noise to others, coming from 30 MPH to 0 MPH there is a clicking noise which varies with speed. It is a very fast clicking noise that slows to single clicks down to 3 MPH or so until hitting zero.” — 2016 Prius

Although it sounds like an issue with the brakes, it’s usually one of the front axles that’s causing the clicking.

Owners were only able to get rid of the clicking once they replaced one or both of the front axles with each axle costing around $300 to $400.

However, this often proves to be just a temporary solution because the axles will eventually start clicking again after several thousand miles.

“I’ve put almost 55k miles on my 2016 already. The problem was fixed after the repair and was fine for several months. Just recently I noticed that the issue returned.” — Priuschat.com

Although most of the reports pertain to the regular hybrid, the plug-in hybrid models of the third and fourth generation Prius use the same part number for their front axles, making them just as susceptible to the same issues.

At least one Prius Prime owner on PriusChat.com reported similar issues:   

“My ‘17 Prime is in the shop right now getting a new driver’s side axle.”

Since there’s no permanent fix and the clicking doesn’t really affect the vehicle’s braking performance or overall safety, most owners just live with the faint ticking.

5. Heat Exchanger Coolant Leak 

The 2017 to 2019 model years of the Prius Prime can suffer from coolant leaks caused by cracks in the heat exchanger near the exhaust pipe.

This heat exchanger runs coolant through the catalytic converter so that it can heat up the heater core quicker during the winter.

Over time, the metal lines can crack and cause coolant to leak out. 

Common symptoms of a faulty heat exchanger include:

  • Low coolant levels
  • Coolant leaking out of exhaust pipe
  • Poor heater performance
  • Check engine light
  • P148F00 trouble code

Heat exchanger issues are more common in the regular hybrid models of the fourth generation Prius, but it’s been reported a few times in early models of the Prius Prime.

Here’s how a few owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“I have a 2018 Toyota Prius Prime (only 89,000 miles) and twice now I had to add coolant to the engine. When this happens, I don’t get much heat out of the heater and sometimes the check engine light comes on. I add coolant and all is fine again until it isn’t. I took it to a hybrid repair shop, and they told me it could be a problem with the exhaust heat exchanger, and it will be expensive to repair.”

“I have a 2017 Toyota Prius prime plug in. My issue is that I am losing coolant. (3 gallons in 5 months) but I have no warning lights, notifications or anything.”

Toyota eventually updated the fourth generation Prius’ front exhaust pipe assembly to address the heat exchanger issues.

A TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) was also released advising dealers to replace the entire front exhaust pipe assembly, which includes the catalytic converter, on the 2016 to 2019 Prius and the 2017 to 2019 Prius Prime if the heat exchanger is leaking.

The updated part costs around $800, but the repair should be covered under the 8-year/80,000-mile Federal Emission Warranty.

In CARB states, this warranty goes up to 15 years or 150,000 miles.

Related: 11 Most Common Toyota Prius Problems (Explained)

6. Head Unit Reboots

The infotainment screen of the 2017 to 2022 Prius Prime can suffer from random reboots and crashes.

The restarts are often random and can occur even while you’re cruising along without even touching anything on the radio.

Similar issues have also been reported with the regular hybrid models of the fourth gen Prius.

It’s also more common in vehicles equipped with the larger 11.6-inch display.

Here’s how owners on PriusChat.com described their experience:

“Lately while I’m driving every once in a while my radio/nav screen goes black and reboots. I have a 2017 Prius Prime Plus.”

“I have a new Prius Prime Advanced and the radio keeps crashing the program on the 11.6 Multimedia Display… The Crash is so severe that the whole system reboots. It happens so frequently I cannot even use the radio.”

“My 2017 Prius Prime Premium with aprox 13,000 miles on it, has the 11.5 inch multimedia display. I was going in reverse, backing into my garage… Suddenly the radio turned off. I thought I had just lost the radio signal, then I heard the music of the startup menu. I thought for a second the car had turned off and was restarting, but I was still moving and the back-up camera WAS displayed on the display, even though underneath it was obviously restarting.”

“I have a 2020 Prius Prime XLE with the 11.6″ infotainment screen. I have had intermittent reboots of the infotainment system since we bought the car in August, 2019.”

“I have a 2020 Prime Limited I purchased in March. 1459 miles total. On several occasions including today, I noticed that the main center console screen will go blank then restart as I am driving away from my home. Pretty startling to hear the startup music while you are driving.” 

Some owners report that the restarting was eventually fixed or significantly reduced after their dealers updated the software for the radio.

However, the issue seems to continue to persist for others even though Toyota has already updated the radio’s software several times.

Other owners have also reported that they eventually had to replace the entire head unit to fix the restarting issue. A new OEM head unit for the fourth gen Prius can easily cost over $2,000 if you need to replace it out of warranty.

Most owners just live with the occasional restarts since it usually happens very rarely. In a lot of cases, it only happens a handful of times a year.

A faulty or cheap phone USB cable can also cause the screen to restart, so you should try unplugging any aftermarket accessories first before trying any other troubleshooting steps. 

7. Parking Sensor Issues

Prius Primes equipped with parking sensors can start throwing error messages when driving through heavy rain, snow or mud.

Many fourth gen Prius owners have reported encountering the “Clean Parking Assist Sensor” and “ICS (Intelligent Clearance Sonar) Does Not Work” error whenever there’s heavy rain.

The error messages can also be accompanied by a constant beeping. 

Even after wiping down the sensors, the errors will usually keep showing up and go away on their own.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience on PriusChat.com:

“Just picked up my new Prius Advanced yesterday. No problems yesterday, but today, after driving in fairly vigorous rain (is this a factor….the manual sorts of eludes to that) I got the “Clean Parking Assist Sensor” error as well as “ICS does not work” error simultaneously. I carefully wiped all 8 sensors around the car, but it continues to give me this error. The car runs OK otherwise.”

“My 2017 Prime Advanced is demonstrating the same problems. The Clean Parking Sensor Warning goes off, the “ICS Unavailable” warning comes on. Beeps constantly when driving, sometimes – extremely distracting! All this started when the heavy rains came last week.” 

“I’ve had my 2017 Prius Prime for two months now… When we got near Seattle… it was raining pretty hard coming over the cascades. The next day when I started my Prius I got the “ICS does not work” error. It sat outside for an hour at the golf driving range and then on my return home the error cleared up.”

The errors are usually triggered by water getting inside the sensors, so simply wiping them down doesn’t usually help that much.

After a few hours or days, the moisture will eventually evaporate on its own and the parking assist errors will stop.

In some cases, the errors can also be caused by faulty sensors. They can break on their own over time or get damaged after a collision.

8. Grille Shutter Issues

The fourth generation Prius has active grille shutters that can suffer from mechanical failures and cause error messages to appear.

These active grille shutters open and close on their own to control the airflow for the car’s cooling systems and reduce drag at higher speeds.

Since the shutters are located on the lower half of the front bumper, debris can get stuck in the flaps and cause them to get stuck.

When the car detects that the shutters are not opening or closing normally, you’ll get an error message saying “Grille Shutter Inoperative.”

This issue affects both the regular hybrid and the Prius Prime.

Here’s how a few owners on PriusChat.com described their experience;

“My 2017 Prius Prime displayed the “Grille Shutter inoperative See your Dealer” warning suddenly with 40K miles. The dealer wanted 150.00 to diagnose and 1,300.00 to replace it.”

“Didn’t know what to make of this message on the display initially. Took a look at the grille and found a 1″ rock wedged in there, keeping it from opening fully. Once dislodged, all’s well.”

Before taking your car to the dealer, you should check the grille for any rocks or debris that may be getting in the way.

Giving the front of the car a thorough wash can also dislodge any built up debris that you can’t easily see.

In some cases, the shutter assembly or the grill actuator may need to be replaced. These typically cost around $200 to $300 a piece.

Here’s how one owner dealt with their grill shutter issues: 

“I just had this happen to my 2018 Prius Prime. Fixed for $236 by ordering the OEM actuator. Installed easily by removing the front bumper cover and unplugging the malfunctioning actuator. The shutter subassembly was in good shape, just needed new actuator.”

9. Fuel Refill Issues

A number of Prius Prime owners have complained about gas spilling out of the fuel filler neck when they try to fill the tank at a gas station.

This fuel filling issue often occurs even if the gas tank isn’t anywhere close to full.

It usually only affects the 2017 to 2018 Prius Prime. It’s also a fairly common complaint in early model years of the fourth gen Prius hybrid.

Here’s how owners described the issue on PriusChat.com:

“I tried filling the gas tank and after a very small amount of gas it overflowed and air bubbled out when I removed the fill nozzle. Obstruction in the tank vent system? 2017 Prime.”

“My 2018 Prius Prime gas gauge showed one dot remaining. After filling two gallons, the gas began spilling on my foot.”

The Prius Prime’s fuel filler neck has a valve that opens when the fuel door is opened and closes when it’s closed to keep fuel vapors from escaping into the atmosphere.

In a lot of cases, the fuel filler nozzle’s splash guard inadvertently hits the fuel door switch on the right side that detects whether the fuel door is open or closed.

To fill up the tank without spilling fuel all over the place, you simply need to hit the fuel door button on the dash again.

Starting with the 2019 model year, Toyota fitted a plastic guard around the switch to prevent this fuel refilling problem.

10. Rust on Rear Hatch Release 

The metal back plate just behind the Prius Prime’s rear hatch external release handle/button is prone to excessive rust issues.

Many owners have reported that it starts showing signs of rust after just one or two single winter seasons.

It’s a more common problem in areas that use a lot of road salt during the winter.

Here’s how owners described their experience on PriusChat.com:

“Got a used 2020 Prius prime in late May 2023. Discovered rust on the hatch door handle in early June.”

“I had the rust on hatch door problem on my first PP (2017 PP Premium)… Well, I just looked at my 2021 PP Ltd. 10-month-old but survived through the first New England winter. It is happening AGAIN! I thought they fixed this problem by replacing the material used for that backing. Initially, when I got the car last summer, the material felt like plastic… but apparently, I was wrong. It is definitely starting to bubble up due to underlying material starting to rust.” 

“My Prime Advanced shows a fair amount of rust in the same place as noted in this thread. Car was purchased June, 2017 and has 28k miles.”

Aside from the unsightly cosmetic issue, the rust doesn’t affect the functionality of the power liftgate.

In later model years, Toyota changed the material for the back plate which many owners assumed was now made out of rubber. 

However, this is probably just paint with a rubber texture and several owners have reported that it can also start bubbling due to rust.

Although it looks like it’s simple to replace, the entire hatch has to be disassembled to remove the trim pieces around the hatch release.

In most cases, dealers just sand down the rust and paint over it. Many owners also resort to DIY repairs and apply products like rust inhibitors to ensure the corrosion doesn’t get worse and affect the rest of the hatch.

11. Peeling Steering Wheel Trim

The SofTex material of the fourth generation Prius and Prius Prime’s steering wheel has a tendency to delaminate and peel off completely after only 3 to 5 years.

Softex is Toyota’s synthetic leather material and is used in the Prius Prime, as well as higher trim levels of the Prius hybrid.

It usually starts bubbling up in the most used areas which will then eventually get ripped after continued use.

Eventually, the steering wheel’s SofTex trim will look like it’s completely falling apart.

Here’s how a few owners described their problems on PriusChat.com:

“My steering wheel Softex outer lining started pulling away from the wheel and forming ridges. These ridges have now ripped off as the outer surface has begun to peel off.”

“My 2017 Prime is the premium model w/ no heated steering wheel and it started peeling @ 26000 mi. Very slight at first and just as my warranty expired it went crazy.”

“I have a leased 2017 Prius Prime Advanced and the wheel started bubbling then peeling at the 12 o’clock position a couple months ago. I brought it in for its last free service today at 25k miles and mentioned the wheel delaminating and that a new bubble has appeared on the left side at 9 o’clock.”

“I’m having mine replaced as we speak (2017 Prime Advanced, under warranty). The surface is tissue-paper thin. I’m not that impressed with this Softex material.”

Some Prius Prime owners were able to get their steering wheel replaced under warranty. However, it’s also common for dealers to consider the damage as normal wear and tear, and deny the warranty.

A new steering wheel costs between $400 to $600. If you want a cheaper solution, you can always just get an aftermarket steering wheel cover.

Toyota Prius Prime Pros & Cons


  • Outstanding reliability
  • Low maintenance costs
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Quiet and comfortable ride
  • Affordable base model
  • Good EV range
  • Good resale value


  • Older generations are slow
  • Lacks spare tire
  • Less cargo space than regular Prius
  • No all-wheel drive option

Related: 8 Best & Worst Toyota Prius Prime Years (Facts & Stats)

What Do The Reviews Say?

“The Prius Prime is estimated to offer between 39 and 44 miles of electric-only range on a full charge, which should be enough for most drivers’ daily commute. That means visits to the gas station could be rare, and even when you exceed the battery-only range, you can expect to achieve a very impressive 50 mpg when using gasoline.” 

“Thanks to a full redesign last year, this new Prius generation also looks significantly better, with simpler, more elemental styling that gives it a sleeker look. Compared to its predecessors, we think this latest iteration is downright attractive.”

“The Prius Prime at times feels more like an EV than a traditional hybrid, especially during city driving where that instant torque makes the car feel responsive and agile. It’s also capable of getting on the highway without the gas engine. While in EV mode, you can floor the accelerator and the gas engine won’t turn on.”

“The Prius Prime’s latest design has also cut down on backseat room and visibility compared to older models. You have to duck down quite a bit to get into the back. Once you do get inside, headroom is in short supply for anyone more than 6 feet tall. Rear visibility is poor because of the small angled rear window and thick rear roof pillars.”

“Open up the Prius Prime’s hatchback and you’ll have 20.3 cubic feet of cargo space available behind the rear seats, matching the regular Prius. This is more cargo space than you’ll get from a similarly sized sedan’s trunk, but it’s less than previous Prius models offered. It’s now shallower and skinnier than before, and we couldn’t fit a set of golf clubs lengthwise across the back of the vehicle. The raised cargo floor might suggest some sort of underfloor storage, but there’s none to be found.”

2024 Toyota Prius Prime | Edmunds

What’s the Resale Value of a Toyota Prius Prime?

Here’s a quick look at used car pricing for the Prius Prime on Edmunds at the time of writing.



  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...